Godfrey Hodgson - life and soul of the Foundation at Oxford
Thursday 11 February 2021
Tributes paid to Godfrey Hodgson rightly praise his achievements as a journalist with unrivalled insight into American politics over 50 years.
But for all those who came over the years through the doors of 13 Norham Gardens, the Reuters Foundation base in Oxford, he was much more - a mentor, a supportive friend, and the life and soul of the place.
The big house in north Oxford is not known as the ‘Open Arms’ for nothing. It was designed as a family home for Sir William Osler on his appointment as regius professor of medicine in 1905. He and his wife Grace ensured a warm welcome was built into the bricks of 13 NG. There’s an old photograph of them hosting a celebratory tea for the construction workers and their families on the back lawn.
Godfrey embraced this tradition with gusto. He was a journalist’s journalist. He loved mixing with the fellows. There was always welcome and sparkle from Godfrey with his wife Hilary and Rupert their Labrador (named after you-know-who).
He also had endearing foibles. Organisation was not Godfrey’s great strongpoint.
He turned up one day early for his interview at Green College for the programme director’s post. Godfrey insisted it was Wednesday (the day of the interview) and Jan, the Warden’s secretary, was equally adamant it was Tuesday and pointed to the calendar.
Eventually he had to admit defeat and go back the next day, which involved him rearranging a flight to the US.
Over nearly a decade as director he was the first point of contact for nearly 200 fellows from 54 countries who often arrived in Oxford tired, bedraggled and daunted by what lay ahead.
Godfrey was warm and unstintingly generous both in his time and contacts to help them settle in. He disliked phoneys and had a very strong bullshit detector.
It was a great privilege for all of us to have the opportunity to study in Oxford. It was an even greater privilege to have known Godfrey.
Chris Holme was Reuters Foundation fellow in medical journalism, 1996. ■